My Experience with Pain

When I was a child I got scarred pretty badly. First my feet, then my chest. I had a love-hate relationship with fire becoming the epitome of “moth to a flame”.

Ever heard of the phrase, from frying pan to fire? This was me at age 6, running to meet my aunt in the kitchen to steal hot and sweet puff-puff. Little did I know that as I approached, she was lifting a pan of hot oil from the stove and in my haste, I did not see it. I bumped into her, getting baptized with the hot oil. Gosh, was I on fire! God only knows how it landed on my foot instead of my face. I was in gruesome pain for weeks, could hardly walk, skipped school for about a month and my foot was purple for a long time.

The beauty about this accident is that I got to learn really early that life compensates you for pain. Because of it I had access to my whims and desires with no question. I wanted 10 pancakes? Eat chocolates till my teeth rot? I got them.

Months later it dawned on me that humans are built to forget pain. We experience it, we bear it, and then we forget it; sometimes we don’t even have the scars to show for it. I know this because more than a decade after that accident, I look at my foot and can barely tell which one has the scar and which doesn’t. At age 9, I was a senior in primary school and was already reading Jane Eyre and Oliver Twist, my writing career began shortly after because of yet another fire accident related to food! It’s surprising that I remain a foodie.

During one of the school holidays, we had a family event and I helped out in the kitchen. I was told to watch the meat while everyone else did everything else. Hyper me just couldn’t sit still, meat watching was such a bore so I kept myself entertained; running in and out of the kitchen. During one of my sprints, a pot of hot stew poured all over my chest.  This was it, I was gonna die. I had pepper and heat on my chest and couldn’t stop rubbing away at it, increasing the agony. I need not tell you that I felt the pain to my brain! I had heat waves. My foot accident at 6 couldn’t compare to this. The pain was unbearable; no amount of water, iodine, penicillin or paracetamol could take it away. If labor pains are as bad as they say, this was second.  I can hardly recollect the weeks after the incident. I simply do not remember events after that, I just know that from then on I stopped running and started writing, all my running medals from primary school were relegated to a keepsake box.

I still love spicy pepper though, the hotter the better. I can well say that most of my pain landmarks are related to food. Those two aren’t the only ones.

There is a history of toothache in my maternal family, it’s almost hereditary. The only people that escaped it are my grandfather and my mother and since she did, I felt I would too. Oh shocker! I was in for a rude awakening. I will forever associate ice cream and sweet 16 to toothache.
There I was one fine afternoon, lounging, reading Sophie Kinsella’s Twenties Girl and licking a massive scoop of strawberry ice-cream when I felt a throb in my front tooth. I disregarded it. The throb continued well into the evening but I continued to ignore it. However, toothache doesn’t let you do that! It will rear its ugly head at midnight, rouse you from your sleep and have you wailing like a banshee. Family members will call family members asking for a cure. But there is no cure, you must have it removed. The problem is you want it removed now, at midnight, but you have to wait. So you gaggle TCP and Listerine, grind painkillers and pour them into your mouth (what is bitterness?).

I was wide awake all night, crying, tossing and turning, reciting all kinds of incantations. At 7am, I was the first patient at the dentist; she scheduled my tooth removal for 2pm and gave me all sorts of tablets. I never made it to her office at 2pm.

You see, when you have an uncle who has been conversant with the pain of toothache for decades and has artificial back teeth, he will tell you; “If you remove one tooth, you’ll remove all. Oyinbo people have no cure for toothache that’s why most of them have no teeth by 65; we know the secret, use kpako.”

So after my doctor’s appointment at 7am, I met with him at 9am, receiving a nylon full of kpako in different shapes and sizes; “You may be skeptical,” he said “Me sef I was doing Oyinbo Oyinbo like you 2 years ago but you see these things? They are what prevented me from removing these front teeth. Use them, it will pepper your mouth, but it works like magic.”
It did. I experienced just a night of toothache but I do not wish it on anyone because the pain is…indescribable.

Pain comes in all forms, from physical to emotional. Some may argue that psychological pain is worse than physical pain. I would have been among that crowd if I hadn’t experienced physical pain and trust me when I say compared to other types of physical pain I’ve heard about those I’ve experienced are tame. However, this does not dispute the fact that pain is pain and even though it can be categorized and is felt differently the result of it is often the same.

Unspeakable agony and anguish are cousins of pain, they are the ones that linger after the band-aid has been ripped off and the bone is broken. They are the ones that throb in reminder of the event that brought them on. They are the ones that introduce their loving sister, scar, who never lets you forget anything because when pain and anguish becomes a dull memory scar will continually stare you in the face telling your story.

I have very little scars from the burns I got when I was younger, they’re almost invisible now. It could be because of the care I received at the time of the accident or good genes yet the tiny marks I still see when I look at my foot, my chest, my hand (where I got beaten by a hyena in the form of my kindergarten classmate), my jaw (which gashed open from a fall when I was playing catch with friends in primary school) reminds me of these incidents.

Above all else I remember to be thankful that I didn’t turn out to be Frankenstein and that I finally learned how to be a lady –ladies don’t run, they walk (I still walk briskly though)


TCP: antiseptic liquid
Listerine: mouthwash
Oyinbo: White person
Kpako: herbal sticks used for cleaning teeth
Me sef: (pidgin) me too

Gabriella Opara is a freelance content writer based in Lagos. Read more from her at her book blog Folio Review, or her Medium.

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Gabriella Opara
Gabriella Opara

Gabriella Opara is a freelance writer based in Lagos. She is also a book review blogger and writes lifestyle articles on her Medium (@glamogen). Gabriella is passionate about creativity and self-development; moonlighting as a poet and amateur artist by night.

1 Comment
  1. This is beautiful. I am no stranger to pain myself. However, my pains mainly arise from my genotype. Growing up, there’s hardly a month I don’t ‘visit’ the hospital. The worst came in late ’98, losing control of my locomotive functions, which led to my being hospiatlized early’ 99. I would go on and spend half of that year at the National Orthopedic Hospital in Igbobi.
    Physical, emotional and psychological pain, I’ve had them all. Pain and I are well acquainted but we are not friends.

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